“Two fourteen-year-old boys meddling in grown folks business, its fable-minded plot set in Nichols’ Gothic South can only take us places we want to be.”
Jeff Nichols’ (Take Shelter, Shotgun Stories) latest installment is a riveting coming-of-age adventure drama set in the swampy backwoods of Arkansas. Nichols’ handles each of his films with care and precision, delicately examining each frame under a directorial microscope that allows for the greatest sense of the South. Mud is no exception.
When young Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and his foul mouthed pal Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) discover an abandoned boat in a tree near their home along the Mississippi, their smiles are stifled by the startling arrival of a river-bottom pistol-toting drifter inhabiting the hidden island who calls himself Mud (Matthew McConaughey). The boys strike a deal with the bizarre stranger who says he’s waiting for his one true love, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), to arrive so they can set sail for better, less murky waters. In exchange for provisions, the two can keep the rickety old boat.
The boys put unwavering faith in the scruffy Mud, Ellis in particular, choosing his outlandish fairytale love stories and Native American mysticism banter over the less poetic, heavy-handed truth: Mud is a fugitive on the run. With bounty hunters closing in on him and few people to turn to, Mud has no other choice than to charm the boys into becoming his chess-board pawns, delivering sappy handwritten letters to his mainland lover, and keeping his whereabouts secret from the state troopers.
Two fourteen-year-old boys meddling in grown folks business, its fable-minded plot can only take us places we want to be. Nichols’ effort in getting us to see the world through their eyes is a tremendous one, avoiding sappy learning moments and instead allowing the camera to act as a figurative mirror, reflecting our own childhood naïveté as we ride along for the journey with these impressionable young boys who by films end have come one step closer to adulthood by personally experiencing the deep heartbreak of disillusionment.
Partially lined with unnecessary subplots and characters – the film would have been better without Ellis’ having a love interest in May Pearl (Bonnie Sturdivant), and with a more fleshed-out (or typed-out) rendition of Mud’s own Juniper – the thicker portion of this Southern pie is good eatin. Had Nichols spent less time pitching buckets of stylistic gasoline onto the vibrant feel of the South’s fire that was well ablaze within the first ten minutes of the movie, he might have made a shorter near-perfect film that further solidified the relationship between Mud and the boys by convincing us of their emotional need for the man rather than their mere curiosity toward the dangerous and dirty.
Though its story is implausible – certain scenes did make me cringe – this study of the nearly- extinct Gothic South paints us a portrait that is both powerful and convincing from start to finish.
MPAA: PG-13 for some violence, sexual references, language, thematic elements and smoking
Runtime: 130 min
Director: Jeff Nichols
Writer: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Reese Witherspoon, Sam Shepard, Michael Shannon
Theatrical Release Date: April 26th, 2013
Richard “Rey” Myers
Film critic and actor
Birthplace: Mission Viejo, CA
Myers’ career in the entertainment industry began when he was cast as Tony Kirby, Jr. in a high school stage production of the black comedy You Can’t Take It With You at the age of 17. A collegiate-trained actor markedly influenced by Konstantin Stanislavski, Sandy Meisner and Larry Moss, he has appeared as Proteus in Shakespeare’s Two Gentleman of Verona and more recently as Segismundo in the Spanish Golden Age piece La Vida Es Suen*o. Since then he has gone on to star as Bill in Clay Lacey’s western short Double Cross (2010) and has written short and feature length screenplays including Tilt and Some Day. Currently a contributing
freelance film critic for UnRated Magazine, The Film Stage and his newly launched blog spot Theactorscritic.wordpress.com, he aspires to work professionally in the film industry, both in front of and behind the camera to further the art that has so faithfully served him: the cinema has saved
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